From War To Plow
The 2014 Farm Bill designated veterans as a distinct class of beginning farmers, giving them access to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s beginning farmer program’s resources, low-interest rate loans for animal and equipment purchases, grant applications, extra payments for implementation of conservation practices, and priority application preference. While veteran farmers will continue to face the many obstacles all beginning farmers face, the USDA hopes this will lighten the burden of entrance into farming.
And in many ways, investing in rural veteran farmers is a smart move for the USDA. With 58 as the average age of the American farmer, the USDA needs to recruit beginning farmers. And rural veterans often "have more education and technical training than their nonveteran rural peers, and they bring unique skills from their military experience.” And thousands of veterans, many who trouble returning to their previous civilian careers, have become interested in farming in recent years.
NPR highlights the story of Sara Creek, who served as a surgery nurse during the Iraq War but felt unable to continue her work as a nurse after returning home and being diagnosed with PTSD. Instead she bought a foreclosed farmhouse and started Blue Yonder Organic Farm, and recently received around $20,000 from the USDA due to her veteran status. Creek flies a "Homegrown by Heroes” sign on her farmers market stall, and hosts workshops for fellow veterans interested in farming. More than financial stability, however, farming has given Creek a sense of purpose. "I feel like I'm on the right path,” she says.